By David Murphy
There is no question that humanity’s future is intrinsically linked to our continued acceptance and development of alternative fuels and technologies. With increasing energy needs, pressure to limit greenhouse gas emissions, and provide cleaner, more efficient fuels all while harnessing sustainable forms of energy borne from our surrounding environment, the need to embrace renewable energy in all of its guises over the coming decades will become paramount.
According to the International Energy Agency, “global renewable energy capacity will rise more than 60% from 2020 levels by 2026 and account for nearly 95% of all worldwide power capacity growth in that time.”
As a leading hub of innovation in the Kingdom and worldwide, KAUST is constantly seeking ways to develop research and technologies that lead to societal progress both locally and globally. Research and technologies that boost the University’s strategic initiatives centered on energy, water, food, health, the environment, and artificial intelligence, among others. Each year, this vision is realized through the pioneering research activities and excellence of its diverse, multinational Faculty and staff.
Achieving excellence in fuel and solar energy
KAUST recently acknowledged its burgeoning progress in solar energy and sustainable fuel technologies by promoting four prominent PSE faculty to the rank of full professor. Those promoted were KAUST Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering Aamir Farooq, KAUST Associate Professor of Chemical Engineering Mani Sarathy, KAUST Associate Professor of Material Science and Engineering Omar Mohammed, and KAUST Associate Professor of Material Science and Engineering Stefaan De Wolf.
As the world moves toward new vehicle technologies and more sustainable modes of transport, optimizing engine efficiency and minimizing emissions is a key research drive of KAUST Professor Aamir Farooq and his colleagues in the Clean Combustion Research Center (CCRC). Researchers at the CCRC aim to develop greener and more efficient fuels with the long-term goal of providing less polluting, better performing, and easier to transport and store fuels.
Professor Farooq’s main research interests are in the areas of fuel chemistry, precision spectroscopy, and laser-based sensors. He is the principal investigator of the Chemical Kinetics and Laser Sensors Laboratory which utilizes shock waves to reach extremely high temperatures and pressures. He develops laser-based gas sensors for environment-monitoring, process optimization and biomedical applications. He has recently exploited machine-learning methods in multispecies sensing and fuel property predictions.
Now over a century old, combustion engine technology continues to be refined and improved upon. The design and operation of transportation fuels and their specific physical and chemical kinetic properties remain at the forefront of Professor Mani Sarathy’s research into thoroughly understanding and improving sustainable fuel technologies. Sarathy leads the KAUST-McLaren partnership on extreme performance technologies, including sustainable Formula 1 fuel design. He is also Senior Manager for Technology and Innovation at ENOWA.NEOM Hydrogen, where he works on developing renewable hydrogen projects at scale.
Professor Sarathy’s research focuses on developing sustainable energy technologies with minimal environmental impact. He is particularly interested in simulating the combustion chemistry of transportation fuels and hydrogen in fuel cells. The Associate Director of the KAUST CCRC also develops chemical kinetic models that can be used in energy systems to simulate fuel combustion and pollutant formation.
Throughout his career, Sarathy has approached combustion science from a variety of perspectives. This has been achieved through research into the fundamental chemistry and physics of fuel combustion, exploring alternative fuel sources, and working with atmospheric scientists to understand the impact of exhaust emissions in the air. He has recently investigated harnessing artificial intelligence and machine learning to improve fuel design and energy conversion processes.
Professor Mohammed focuses on utilizing advanced time and space-resolved characterization techniques including cutting-edge ultrafast laser spectroscopy, and four-dimensional electron imaging, to address the challenges in producing highly efficient solar cells, X-ray imaging scintillators, fluorescence sensors, light-emitting diodes, and photodetectors.
In the past, Professor Mohammad and his colleagues at KAUST have studied the ultrafast charge carrier dynamics at the surface and interface of perovskite materials that generated breakthrough advancements for perovskites in solar cells including world-record solar cell devices based on perovskite crystals.
Professor De Wolf’s research focuses on the fabrication of high-efficiency silicon and perovskite solar cells, specifically on understanding interface structures and electrical contact formation related to solar cells and electronic devices. He is also Chair of the Material Science and Engineering Program and the Interim Associate Director at KAUST Solar Center (KSC).
Research conducted by De Wolf and his colleagues in the KSC has demonstrated that perovskite solar cell technologies, in tandem combination with mainstream silicon solar cells have been dramatically more efficient than conventional, single-junction solar cells. These mass-producing, better-performing tandems could lay the foundations for next-generation devices with more efficient power than currently available technologies.
Regarding the recent promotions, Ravi Samtaney, Dean of the KAUST Physical Science and Engineering Division, said: “It is a pleasure to formally announce the promotion of four of our colleagues. Please join me in congratulating them on their well-deserved promotions.”
According to the “Energy & Sustainability” section of Saudi Vision 2030, the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Energy is “working to diversify the national energy mix used in electricity production, increasing the share of natural gas and renewable energy sources to approximately 50% by 2030 while reducing the use of liquid fuel.”
Many of KAUST’s research areas, including climate change, offshore coastal systems, desert agriculture, and low-carbon fuels, will complement the Kingdom’s drive to achieve its Vision 2030 goals of a diversified economy and domestic energy mix. Through scientific research, training, and development programs, talent development, entrepreneurship and innovation programs, the University continues to work together with its in-Kingdom partners to achieve Vision 2030's goals.”